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     Coming in for service any time soon? Some tips: Make a list. This is a working list that you make up in the car as you experience the fault. The night before you go in take the time to rewrite your notes so that you can explain your issues to the service writer. Insist on a test drive if you can’t get your point across. The more information you can supply to the shop about the failure the easier and less costly the repair could be. Documentation, take your vehicle’s warranty information and owner’s manual on your way in. This will ease the write up process. The service writer will need the serial number, plate number, and mileage. Make sure you leave good contact information, the shop should be able reach you in a timely manner.
     Shops get really upset when you don’t return calls and the vehicle is stuck on the hoist. We allow a grace period and then we charge $50 per hour waiting time. Take the time to read your manual and know what your obligations are. Being better informed will avoid a lot of confusion as to who is responsible for what. Call in before you pick up your car call to ask how much your invoice is. If you have issues talk to the shop before coming down. Things are busy at the end of the day and you may not get the attention you feel you are entitled to.
     Check your car before you drop it off for damage. Check it again when you pick it up. Don’t leave valuables in the car. A lot of folks will be handling your car, plus it will be sitting unattended in the lot. Shops are required to take reasonable care of the vehicles in their possession; however, you are ultimately on the hook for any pilferage. To avoid any uncomfortable situations, haul any valuables out for the car before you bring it in. Make sure the tank has enough fuel in it to allow testing. Having said that don’t fill it up when it’s in for a gas tank replacement. Removing and storing your fuel will cost you. Believe me I’ve seen that. Finally, Clean your car. I’ve had techs refuse to work on cars filled with garbage. Old food, coffee cups, cigarettes butts etc. don’t belong. Would you invite the relatives over without straightening up? One more thing, I can’t believe how many owners take their keys with them. Bad.

We should revisit the way we service our cars. A lot of the repair work we get in our shop are due to break downs or part failures due to wear. If your car has been properly serviced break downs should be all but eliminated. The folks that designed and manufactured your car recommend a minimum amount of service to ensure safe, reliable and economical motoring. You can easily find this information in your owner’s manual.
     In Canada we follow the severe service schedule. Following these recommendations should eliminate most of the issues we run into when it comes to break downs. After the new has worn off, a lot of owners skimp on servicing the vehicle in order to save a few bucks. Wrong! Skimping on service will bite you in the end. The business end of a tow truck is not a great place to meet people.


     A lot of folks are confused when it comes to servicing air conditioning systems. Modern air conditioning systems are made up of 4 major components. The compressor, the condenser, evaporator, and the receiver drier.. Every one of these units is fragile and easily damaged, yet if serviced properly can give years of service. I wanted to take a minute to explain how your car’s a/c system actually works. Let’s start at the compressor. This unit as the name implies compresses the operating gas to a high pressure liquid.
     The liquid refrigerant is piped to the evaporator. The evaporator is mounted under the dash. The refrigerant is atomised in the evaporator and turns into a gas. Much like a perfume atomizer. The refrigerant needs heat to accomplish atomization, so everything turns cold. Air is blown through the cold and cools the car. The heat we suck out is carried by the now heavy gas to the condenser. This unit is mounted in front of the car next to the radiator. We blow air through this unit and the heavy gas inside. Result the gas condenses (turns back into liquid) and gives up the heat it was carrying. To ensure a reserve of gas and to remove any moisture in the system we use the receiver drier. The receiver drier is filled with activated charcoal and should be swapped out whenever the system is opened. We have now effectively removed the heat from the interior of the vehicle. Simple? Right. Now don’t write me that I have forgotten this or that. This is a lot of theory for a 500 word column.
     Up to about 1990 A/C units used Freon as an operating gas. Freon is composed mainly of chlorine. When chlorine is released to the atmosphere, the molecules join with the ozone molecules and were blamed for depleting the ozone layer. Remember the great big hole in the Antarctic? So the operating gas was changed to 134a. 134a does not deplete the ozone, but according to experts is contributing to global warming. Some days you just can’t win. Today we install a product called Duracool. This operating gas is organic and to date has been proven to be easy on the environment. Also easy on the components. Some interesting facts. It takes 5-7 hp to run an a/c system. It’s more economical to run a/c on the highway than running with the windows down. A/C systems are usually constructed of aluminum alloys in order to save weight plus aluminum is more thermal efficient. Aluminum was considered a precious metal at the turn of the century (1900’s). Women of fashion wore aluminum jewellery. Average recharge is a $250 experience.

     Now that the warm weather is here setting up our cars to run in hotter temperatures should be high on your car maintenance calendar. Part of the regime, air conditioning. The a/c system in your car is often computer controlled and complicated So when you push that a/c button and nothing happens be prepared for an expensive repair. Most a/c systems will bleed down refrigerant as they age.
     Current legislation in effect will not allow your tech to just top up the unit. The “top up” begins with the tech evacuating the entire system and check for leaks. If the unit can hold vacuum for a specific time the system can be refilled, if not the system must be repaired before it can be recharged. Units that fail inspection and are not repaired are tagged and logged. A tech cannot refill a tagged system without sourcing and repairing the failure. Air conditioning system are built very light to dissipate heat and reduce the sprung weight of a vehicle. Many components are made of aluminum and exotic alloys. These metals don’t do well in our weather. Average cost of an a/c service $200.

     I can’t believe that we’re half way through semi-winter. Finally; the temperatures are starting to warm up. That means it time to test the air conditioning system on your car. We’re actually getting some a/c work this early in the season. For many years now manufactures have used 134a as the refrigerant in their a/c systems. R134a was pressed into service as a replacement for Freon (R 12). Based in chlorine Freon molecules were identified as damaging the ozone layer. Freon was banned for use in vehicles back in the last century.
     It’s rumoured that the stuff that is damaging the ozone today got there from as far back as the 70’s. It will take decades to work through. Serious stuff. If you’re a/c system does require service ask your mechanic to investigate the use of organic refrigerant. Sold under the trade name DURACOOL, this product is non ozone depleting, doesn’t form green house gases and is actually colder that similar OEM products. Duracool is so cold you actually use less per vehicle. One more thing, make sure you have your cabin filter changed and the heater box cleaned out. Just like the heating system in the house, this filter must be changed annually. It’s best to service the HVAC system now, before the shops get busy.